The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has been simmering for decades, erupted again on September 19, 2023, when Azerbaijan launched a surprise military offensive to reclaim the disputed territory from ethnic Armenian forces.
The fighting lasted for only one day, but resulted in casualties and thousands of displaced people on both sides. The conflict has also raised questions about the history and future of the region, which is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but has been under the control of a self-proclaimed Armenian republic since 1991.
How did Armenians settle in Nagorno-Karabakh?
The origins of the Armenian presence in Nagorno-Karabakh are disputed and complex. According to some sources, Armenians have inhabited the region since ancient times, and have maintained their cultural and religious identity despite various invasions and migrations. According to others, Armenians migrated to the region in large numbers during the 19th and 20th centuries, especially after the Russo-Persian wars and the Armenian genocide. In any case, by the time of the Soviet Union, Nagorno-Karabakh had a predominantly Armenian population, but was assigned to the Azerbaijani Soviet Socialist Republic as an autonomous region in 1923. However Azerbaijan claims that there have been resettlements of Ethnic Armenians from Armenian into Nagorno Karabakh.
Why did Armenians declare independence from Azerbaijan?
The tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in Nagorno-Karabakh escalated in the late 1980s, as the Soviet Union began to collapse and nationalist movements emerged in both republics. In 1988, the regional parliament of Nagorno-Karabakh passed a resolution to join Armenia, sparking protests and violence in both countries In 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh held a referendum and declared its independence as the Republic of Artsakh, which was not recognized by any country, including Armenia. This triggered a full-scale war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which lasted until 1994 and claimed about 30,000 lives. A ceasefire agreement was signed with the mediation of Russia, France and the United States, who formed the OSCE Minsk Group to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the conflict. However, the status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained unresolved and sporadic clashes continued along the line of contact.
How did Azerbaijan regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh?
In 2020, Azerbaijan launched a major military campaign to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding territories, which had been occupied by Armenian forces since 1994. The war lasted for six weeks and ended with a Russian-brokered truce that gave Azerbaijan control over most of the region. The agreement also provided for the deployment of about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to monitor the ceasefire and ensure the safe return of refugees and displaced persons. However, the situation remained tense and unstable, as Azerbaijan imposed a blockade on Nagorno-Karabakh and accused Armenia of violating the ceasefire terms. On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijan carried out a swift military operation that took over Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, and forced the Armenian side to surrender.
How does the world see the return of Azerbaijani migrants to their home towns?
The international community has expressed concern and condemnation over the recent escalation of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations. Many countries have also urged respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as protection for civilians and cultural heritage sites in the region. Some countries have also offered humanitarian assistance and support for reconstruction efforts in Nagorno-Karabakh.
However, there are also divergent views and interests among different actors regarding the conflict. Some countries, such as Turkey have openly supported Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh, while others, such as France and Iran, have expressed sympathy for Armenia’s historical and cultural ties with the region. Russia has played a key role as a mediator and peacekeeper in the conflict, but has also faced criticism for its ambiguous stance and influence over both parties. The United States has been less involved in the conflict resolution process, but has expressed support for a peaceful settlement within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group.
The return of Azerbaijani migrants to their home towns in Nagorno-Karabakh is seen by some as a sign of justice and reconciliation after decades of displacement and suffering.
However, it is also seen by others as a source of fear and resentment among ethnic Armenians who have lived in the region for generations and now face an uncertain future under Azerbaijani rule. The fate of these people remains a major challenge for achieving a lasting peace and stability in the region.